Recent History – 2000
July 6, 2000
“The strength of the organic industry is its integrity,” said Kit Fearon, Certification Committee Co-Chair for the Peace River Organic Producers Association (PROPA).
“We have to ensure the integrity of our label is maintained throughout production; that members are farming in an organically acceptable manner and that contamination is not happening in processing.”
In order to maintain that high standard, annual farm inspections are an essential part of PROPA certification. The process of certification begins when producers submit applications to a committee of PROPA producers, at least one consumer, and the certification committee.
“New and renewing members must submit yearly applications,” said Fearon.
Both initial and renewal forms are very extensive including farm input, field history and rotation, sales summary and inventory reports.
“A complete paper trail is very important,” she said. “The product must be traceable from the seed through to the consumer.”
Once the applications have been reviewed by the committee they are passed on to an independent verification officer along with a check list of accepted and regulated practices and concerns that may be apparent from the application or from previous inspections.
In order to conduct an impartial inspection, officers will come to the Peace from other regions. Fearon said it is recommended that the same officer not do inspections for more than three consecutive years in one area.
Inspectors have completed the Independent Organic Inspectors Association training. The training includes a distance education component in addition to hands-on workshops and inspections, and Fearon said that prepares the officers to examine all aspects of organic production.
While an agricultural background may be a benefit, it is not a prerequisite to becoming a verification officer.
“The inspector is given a check list to follow from the certifying body. It is the inspector’s job to follow that list and document any concerns,” explained Fearon. “The training teaches inspectors how to find what the certifying body needs to know.”
During the inspection, the officer will determine whether a producer or processor is complying with the PROPA standards. By adhering to those standards, producers are also following the Certified Organic Associations of British Columbia and the national standards.
An initial inspection on a new applicant generally takes four hours to complete.
“Many things are taken into consideration; farm layout, water source, storage, machinery, livestock and record keeping. Organic production isn’t just eliminating chemicals. The officers are looking for sustainable methods of farming without degradation of the environment.”
Fearon said producers are also required to submit soil tests every three years to ensure that soils are not being mined.
Once the inspection is completed, the officer lists concerns and makes recommendations.
“The verification officer does not approve or disapprove certification,” said Fearon.
The committee reviews all inspection reports and determines whether or not certification is granted or if recommendations are to be addressed prior to certification.
“It could be something as simple as numbering grain bins or putting up “no spray” signs that is needed before certification can be granted,” explained Fearon.
Once the recommendations are passed on to the producer or processor, a second inspection may be scheduled.
“All new applicants are required to have two inspections in the first year,” Fearon said.
This year, PROPA has hired two verification officers to conduct inspections. The inspections will start on July 11 and will probably take at least three weeks to complete. “It is quite a process, however it is essential,” said Fearon.
“The odd person may enter organics thinking that he will make more money and may cut corners, or a new applicant may just not be familiar enough with regulated materials. The inspection process ensures all of our members are complying with the organic standards and that there is integrity in our label.”